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Revised Brandes-Fitzenhagen gun bill disarms former opponents

A matching pair of proposals that would allow Floridians to carry concealed weapons without a permit during certain emergency situations passed committees in both legislative chambers on Wednesday.

First up was Fort Myers Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen‘s HB 493, which passed the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee by a vote of 9 to 2, with Democratic Reps. Clovis Watson and Randolph Bracy dissenting. Before the vote Fitzenhagen amended her bill to create a 48-hour time limit on the bill’s exemption to concealed-carry statutes during evacuations, with a provision that allows the governor to extend it as necessary on an ad hoc basis.

That move brings the bill in line with the Senate version sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, who watched as his legislation died in the upper chamber last year amid pushback from anti-gun and law enforcement groups — as well as Pinellas rival Sen. Jack Latvala. Only Orlando Sen. Geraldine Thompson voted against the bill in Wednesday’s meeting of Senate Community Affairs, where it passed 4 to 1.

All three no votes — Thompson, Watson, and Bracy — by African-American Democrats from cities with higher levels of gun violence than most of the state.

The Florida Sheriffs’ Association spoke in support of both bills, which it opposed last session, as did the Florida Police Chiefs. Opposition from police officers was a sticking point last year for Inverness Sen. Charlie Dean, who tipped his cap in appreciation to Brandes for making the changes regarding a built-in expiration to the bill’s exemption.

One bellwether on the Senate side was Sen. Joe Abruzzo, a Democrat who represents a heavily urban district in Palm Beach County where attitudes about guns are considerably liberal-learning. Abruzzo, who has deep ties to local police and fire unions, praised the bill in committee and voted in favor of it.

Abruzzo’s vote augers well for Brandes’ bill and suggests that an organized campaign against the bill in unlikely this Session.

Marion Hammer of the National Rifle Association waived in support.

Written By

Ryan Ray covers politics and public policy in North Florida and across the state. He has also worked as a legislative researcher and political campaign staffer. He can be reached at

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